Spousal Support and Alimony in Virginia

Aside from the emotional fallout, divorce is complicated. This is mostly due to all of the legal and financial issues that surface when a married couple splits. If you are going through a divorce, this also means you and your spouse will inevitably have a lot of questions.

For example, you may be wonder if you have a spousal support case. If spousal support is an option, how long should it last? How do we determine an equitable spousal support amount? These are some of the questions Kales & Kales, PLC can help you answer. Because spousal support is often a point of contention for a divorcing couple we are well aware how important it is to answer these questions fully and honestly. After all, disagreements over both its amount and duration can sometimes result in an ugly dispute if left unchecked.

As your trusted divorce lawyers in Fairfax, VA. we also understand it can be a very tricky area of the law. If you have any questions about spousal support, please contact us. We would be happy to meet with you at our Fairfax office or one of our other Northern Virginia offices.

You are not automatically entitled to spousal support

The single most important point to understand in this context is that there is no automatic right to spousal support in Virginia. Instead, the determination as to whether a spouse gets alimony is made based on the unique circumstances of each case.

Once a determination is made that spousal support is warranted, other important issues must be addressed. These include the amount that should be awarded, how long the support should remain in effect, and whether or not it can be changed.

Reaching a determination regarding spousal support

Legally, a court must consider more than a dozen factors to decide whether spousal support is warranted. Although this is not a requirement for a couple trying to resolve the matter using methods other than litigation, experts recommend that they consider the following as well:

  1. Each person’s obligations, needs and financial resources, such as but not exclusively, income derived from employment, all pension, profit sharing or retirement plans, if applicable.
  2. The standard of living you became accustomed to during your marriage.
  3. How long you were married.
  4. Each person’s age, physical and mental health, and any special issues affecting the family.
  5. The degree to which the age, physical or mental condition or special needs of any of the parties’ children would warrant a party’s decision not to seek employment outside of the home.
  6. Each person’s monetary and non-monetary contributions to the family’s welfare.
  7. Each person’s property interests, including real property, personal property, tangible property and intangible property.
  8. Any provisions made concerning marital property under applicable law.
  9. The earning capacity of each spouse, including each person’s skills, education and training and the current employment opportunities for people with the same earning capacity.
  10. The chances for, the ability of, and the time and costs involved for a party to obtain necessary education, training, and skills that would increase his or her earning ability.
  11. The choices each of you made while you were married concerning employment, career, economics, education and parenting arrangements and their effect on present and future earning potential; including how long one or both of you have been absent from the job market.
  12. The degree to which either of you has helped the other obtain their education, training, career position or profession.
  13. Other criteria, including the tax implications for you and your spouse, and reasons for the dissolution, specifically including any ground for divorce, needed to weigh to the equities between the parties.

Methods for determination of amount

Assuming spousal support is warranted, how is the amount calculated? In many cases, Northern Virginia attorneys, mediators and other divorce professionals use the “pendente lite spousal support formula.”  This is a formula initially created to facilitate the rapid calculation of spousal support “in pre-trial emergency situations.”

Today, in our experience, Virginia courts may also consider the pendente lite formula in gauging what the spousal support amount should be post-divorce, although they are supposed to focus solely on the thirteen factors listed above.

If a couple has minor children, the pendente lite spousal support calculation is 26% of the payor’s gross monthly income – 58% of the recipient’s gross monthly income. If a couple does not have minor children, the pendente lite spousal support calculation is 27% of the payor’s gross monthly income – 50% of the recipient’s gross monthly income.

How long does spousal support remain in effect?

The unwritten rule in Virginia is that spousal support awards are often set for half the length of the marriage. Typically, this is defined as date of marriage to date of separation divided by two. However, another rule of thumb in Virginia is, if you have been married for more than 20 years, alimony may be awarded for an undefined duration.

Regardless of the duration, if a Virginia judge factors the retirement of either spouse into a spousal support award, it must be clear about this. As specified in applicable law:

“Any order granting or reserving any request for spousal support shall state whether the retirement of either party was contemplated by the court and specifically considered by the court in making its award, and, if so, the order shall state the facts the court contemplated and specifically considered as to the retirement of the party.” (Emphasis added.)

Modification of spousal support

Unless you and your ex stipulate otherwise in your Marital Settlement Agreement, either of you may request modifications of spousal support. The language used in the Agreement will determine the conditions upon and the extent to which it may be changed.

For example, an agreement that looks to statutory language might simply indicate a party’s spousal support obligation may be modified by the court upon a material change in circumstances that warrants modification.

Alternatively, you can choose to include to include customized language regarding spousal support in your Marital Settlement Agreement if you negotiate those terms, whether via mediation, the Collaborative Process, or otherwise. This language will include the specific circumstances in which either of you may request changes to spousal support.

If you want to prevent the potential for modification for any reason, Virginia law mandates that your settlement agreement must expressly state that the amount or duration of spousal support is non-modifiable.”

Contact Virginia spousal support lawyers today

At Kales & Kales, PLC we take pride in helping clients who are going through divorce tackle important issues using the methods best suited for them. If you have questions about spousal support including or in addition to the issues we’ve noted here — such as termination of spousal support, or what happens when the payor dies — please contact our office for a consultation. We look forward to hearing from you soon.